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April 30, 2009, 11:49 am

Chu Promises Speedier Funding for Renewable Energy Projects

Written By Jeremy Miller

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu Associated Press Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, right, received an overview Wednesday of projects underway at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado

Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu announced $93 million in funding for American wind energy research and development on Wednesday, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“The goal is to set America on a course for a secure and sustainable energy future,” Mr. Chu said to a crowd assembled at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. The secretary restated President Obama’s target of generating 10 percent (PDF) of the nation’s electricity from renewables by 2012.

According to energy department statistics, in 2008, wind energy accounted for 42 percent of all new energy generation capacity in the United States.

Of nearly $100 billion in stimulus funds for energy, $26 billion have been authorized for clean energy projects since mid-February, Mr. Chu said. The Department of Energy’s goal is to award 70 percent of this total by Labor Day.

In addition to increased funding, the secretary also pledged to speed up the the energy department’s loan-making process. He said in the past it was not unusual for loan approvals to take four years. “This is a very sick economy,” said Mr. Chu. “If it takes four years to get a new set of loans out, either the patient will have recovered by himself — or he will have died.”

The secretary said the new loan approval system will cut that time to a matter of months, and drastically reduce the amount of paperwork. “We want to launch projects quickly and logically that will provide enduring value,” said Mr. Chu.

The speedier turnaround time, however, will come with greater oversight, he said. “The president has made very clear that he holds all agencies accountable for making sure the states spend this money wisely.”

To loud applause, Mr. Chu also announced a $100 million grant to the renewable energy lab for building upgrades and other infrastructure fixes to its biorefinery, which is exploring ethanol- and cellulose-based fuel.

Before the talk, Mr. Chu and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter toured a wing of the N.R.E.L. facility focused on developing low-cost photovoltaic technology

Last year, N.R.E.L. researchers set a world record for efficiency for a thin-film photovoltaic cell, which achieved an efficiency of 19.9 percent, close to that of the more traditional silicon-based solar cell.

The silicon-free cells hold promise, said Joe Verrengia, an N.R.E.L. spokesman, because they are cheaper to manufacture and replace than traditional solar panels.